Margot Robbie does a fantastic job as the former figure skater Tonya Harding in a facetious biopic directed by Craig Gillespie who, despite spirited in tone, didn’t surpass his 2007 comedy Lars and the Real Girl. If the cited Australian actress got our eye through a fine performance, Ohio-born Allison Janney, who plays Tonya’s mother, LaVona, is absolutely insuperable. Curiously, Janney aspired to become a champion skater at a younger age, but an accident prevented her to fulfill that dream.
Following a script by Steven Rogers (Kate & Leopold; P.S. I Love You), who also produces, the director pins the camera in front of the forty-something Tonya, giving her free rein to express herself in regard to a controversial past that got her banned from figure skating for life. According to her fictional testimony, every complicated situation that happened in her agitated life was never her fault.
“What kind of mother throws a knife at her daughter in the heat of a frivolous argument?”
Tonya, who won the first competition at the age of four, achieved brilliant moments in her career. She became an Olympian champion and a Skate America champion twice, and also made history in the sport for being the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition, among other records. While she was never satisfied with the scores, often lowered due to a poor presentation, her abhorrent and super controlling mother was never satisfied with her performances, making a constant psychological pressure that intended to pique her toward excellence.
Unstable, mean, and utterly rude in her language, LaVona only smiles to scorn or humiliate. What kind of mother throws a knife at her daughter in the heat of a frivolous argument? If this weren’t enough, Tonya was being a victim of domestic violence by her prickly husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). The latter joined an unrefined bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), in a dirty scheme to attack Tonya’s main competitor, Nancy Kerrigan, and prevent her from competing in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
“Like the story of its title character, Tonya, the film, embraces contradiction from start to finish.”
Tonya’s hardships were depicted with straightforwardness; however, the film’s narrative was not so effective, perennially wobbling between the cheaply dramatic and the absurdly comic. It was orchestrated to be an absolution for Tonya, who went to professional boxing after realizing that her figure skating career was over, and a definitive condemnation of the cruel, companionless LaVona, whose unbending personality persists, even when declining and wearing a nasal oxygen cannula.
Like the story of its title character, Tonya, the film, embraces contradiction from start to finish. While the soundtrack is awesome, with Heart’s 1977 hit ‘Barracuda’ attempting to have the same boosting effect that Survivor’s ‘Burning Heart’ had in Rocky, all the moody characters are unenchanting and some of them even useless, like Martin Maddox (Bobby Cannavale), the producer of Hard Copy, the unreliable tabloid news television show, very popular in the 90s. The feeling is even stronger after we hear LaVona saying to her daughter: “I gave you a gift”, immediately getting “You’re a monster” as an answer. Robbie and Janney’s performances avoided further damage.
I, Tonya (2017) Directed by Craig Gillespie. Written by Steven Rogers. Starring: Margot Robbie, Allison Janneyo, Sebastian Stan, Paul Walter Hauser.
5 out of 10